Courtesy Dan Machnik
Chicagoan Maggie Baczkowski decided in 2014 to do her part to end gun violence in the city she calls home.
Baczkowski created Strides for Peace, a nonprofit organization that provides funds to existing organizations in Chicago dedicated to ending gun violence.
The Chronicle spoke with Baczkowski about founding Strides for Peace, its annual Race Against Gun Violence event and her hopes for Chicago, guidance and the impact it has on the community.
THE CHRONICLE: How did Strides for Peace start?
BACZKOWSKI: Strides for Peace was formed because of a shooting that happened in 2007. There was a young man who died on a CTA bus protecting his friend and his story struck me. I thought, ‘What more do we want from people?’ They’re on their way to school, they’re proactive, they’re protecting their friends and were just in the wrong place at the wrong time. There is no escaping this. I felt like I was called to action. Instead of creating another nonprofit organization, why don’t we form Strides for Peace where we can become a funding source for existing organizations? Based on our relationships, we choose community partners and fund their goals.
Is there a specific example of a when have you seen the impact of Strides of Peace?
Every day, Diane Latiker—founder of Kids Off the Block—has kids showing up at her home and she takes them in, takes care of them and provides some stability to her neighborhood. She wanted a basketball program and needed funding. Latiker knew what she wanted, she organized it, put it together and we funded it. It’s something she does every year now. We are happy that we can participate in that and partner with her.
What is your Race Against Gun Violence event?
We copied the marathon charity program where the runner can pick an organization they want to fund and 100 percent of the funds go directly to either a community partner or community affiliates. They can use our race as a platform. It is a venue where a lot of bridges can be built and where there are a lot of people trying to accomplish the same things in one area.
Is advocacy work something you personally have always been passionate about?
I don’t think of myself as an advocate. I think of myself as somebody who has a responsibility to Chicago and my community. I feel I must play a part in making Chicago a better place by putting myself in other people’s shoes and trying to create opportunities and solutions.
What do you hope for Chicago’s future in terms of gun violence?
I hope that there can be healing. When it is up close and personal, it is painful and complex. You can no longer speak categorically about the subject or people. When people use terms such as ‘them vs. us,’ it creates separation. When it’s ‘us and we,’ the nuances are apparent. There isn’t one size that fits all. You can’t address the gun violence in silence. We have to have courage to witness and understand what’s uncomfortable. As Albert Einstein said, ‘Peace cannot be kept by force; it can only be achieved by understanding.’ We can start by listening.